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In death there were many layers. Violent death added more. It was her job to sift through those layers and find cause. In cause, to meet justice.
However the act of murder was committed, in cold blood or hot, she was sworn to pursue it to its root. And serve the dead.
For tonight, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York City Police and Security Department wore no badge. It, along with her service weapon and communicator, was currently tucked in an elegant, palm-sized silk purse she considered embarrassingly frivolous.
She wasn't dressed like a cop, but wore a shimmering apricot-hued gown that skimmed down her long, slim body and was sliced in a dramatic V in the back. A slender chain of diamonds hung glittering around her neck. More sparkled at ears she recently, and in a weak moment, had been persuaded to have pierced.
Still more were scattered like raindrops through her short chop of brown hair and made her feel faintly ridiculous.
However glamorous the silk and diamonds made her appear, her eyes were all cop. Tawny brown and cool, they scanned the sumptuous ballroom, skimmed over faces, bodies, and considered security.
Cameras worked into the fancy plasterwork overhead were unobtrusive, powerful, and would provide full scope. Scanners would flag any guests or staff who happened to be carrying concealeds. And among the staff, weaving their way through the chatter to offer drinks, were a half-dozen trained security personnel.
The affair was invitation only, and those invitations carried a holographic seal that was scanned at the door.
The reason for these precautions, and others, was an estimated five hundred and seventy-eight million dollars worth of jewelry, art, and memorabilia currently on dazzling display throughout the ballroom.
Each display was craftily arranged for impact and guarded by individual sensor fields that measured motion, heat, light, and weight. If any of the guests or staff had sticky fingers and attempted to remove so much as an earring from its proper place, all exits would close and lock, alarms would sound, and a second team of guards hand-selected from an elite NYPSD task force would be ordered to the scene to join the private security.
To her cynical frame of mind, the entire deal was a foolishly elaborate temptation for too many, in too large an area, in too public a venue. But it was tough to argue with the slick setup.
Then again, slick was just what she expected from Roarke.
"Well, Lieutenant?" The question, delivered with a whiff of amusement in a voice that carried the misty air of Ireland, drew her attention to the man.
Then again, everything about Roarke drew a woman's attention.
His eyes, sinfully blue, set off a face that had been sculpted on one of God's best days. As he watched her, his poet's mouth, one that often made her want to lean in for just one quick bite, curved, one dark brow lifted, and his long fingers skimmed possessively down her bare arm.
They'd been married nearly a year, and that sort of casually intimate stroke could still trip her pulse.
"Some party," she said and turned his smile into a fast, devastating grin.
"Yes, isn't it?" With his hand still lightly on her arm, he scanned the room.
His hair was black as midnight and fell nearly to his shoulders into what she thought of as his wild Irish warrior look. Add to that the tall, tautly muscled build in elegant black-tie, and you had a hell of a package. Obviously a number of other women in the room agreed. If Eve had been the jealous type, she'd have been forced to kick some major ass just for the hot and avaricious looks aimed in her husband's direction.
"Satisfied with the security?" he asked her.
"I still think holding this business in a hotel ballroom, even your hotel ballroom, is risky. You've got hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of junk sitting around in here."
He winced a little. "Junk is not quite the descriptive phrase we hope for in our publicity efforts. Magda Lane's collection of art, jewelry, and entertainment memorabilia is arguably one of the finest to ever go to auction."
"Yeah, and she'll rake in a mint for it."
"I certainly hope so, as for handling the arrangements for security, display, and auction Roarke Industries gets a nice piece of the pie."
He was scanning the room himself, and though he was anything but a cop, he studied, measured, and watched even as his wife had.
"Her name's enough to push the bidding far above actual value. I think we're safe in predicting that twice the actual value will make up that pie by the end of things."
Boggling, Eve thought. Boggling. "You're figuring people will choke out half a billion for somebody else's things?"
"Conservatively and before the sentiment factors in."
"Jesus Christ." She could only shake her head. "It's just stuff. Wait." She held up a hand. "I forgot who I was talking to. The king of stuff."
"Thank you, darling." He decided not to mention he had his eye on a few bits of that stuff for himself, and his wife.
He lifted a finger. Instantly a server bearing a tray of champagne in crystal flutes was at his side. Roarke removed two, handed one to Eve. "Now, if you've finished eyeballing my security arrangements, perhaps you could enjoy yourself."
"Who says I wasn't?" But she knew she was here not as a cop, but as the wife of Roarke. That meant mingling, rubbing shoulders. And the worst of human tortures in her estimation: small talk.
Because he knew her mind as thoroughly as he knew his own, he lifted her hand, kissed it. "You're so good to me."
"And don't you forget it. Okay." She took a bracing sip of champagne. "Who do I have to talk to?"
"I think we should start with the woman of the hour. Let me introduce you to Magda. You'll like her."
"Actors," Eve muttered.
"Biases are so unattractive. In any case," he began as he led her across the room, "Magda Lane is far more than an actor. She's a legend. This marks her fiftieth year in the business, one which often chews up and spits out those who dream of it. She's outlasted every trend, every style, every change in the movie industry. It takes more than talent to do that. It takes spine."
It was as close as Eve had ever seen him to having stars in his eyes. And that made her smile. "Stuck on her, are you?"
"Absolutely. When I was a boy in Dublin, there was a particular evening where I needed a bit of a dodge off the streets. Seeing as I had several lifted wallets and other pocket paraphernalia on my person and the garda on my heels."
The wide mouth she'd forgotten to dye for the evening sneered. "Boys will be boys."
"Well, be that as it may, I happened to duck into a theater. I was eight or thereabouts and resigned myself to sitting through some costume drama I imagined would bore me senseless. And there sitting in the dark, I had my first look at Magda Lane as Pamela in Pride's Fall."
He gestured toward the display of a sweeping white ballgown that shimmered under a firestorm of icy stones. The droid replica of the actor turned in graceful circles, dipped into delicate curtsies, fluttered a sparkling white fan.
"How the hell did she walk around in that?" Eve wondered. "Looks like it weighs a ton."
He had to laugh. It was so Eve to see the inconvenience rather than the glamour. "Nearly thirty pounds of costume, I'm told. I said she had spine. In any case, she was wearing that the first time I saw her on screen. And for an hour I forgot where I was, who I was, that I was hungry or that I'd likely get a fist in the face when I got home if the wallets weren't plump enough. She drew me out of myself. That's a powerful thing."
He avoided interruption by simply aiming a smile or wave in the direction of those who called him. "I went back and saw Pride's Fall four times that summer, and paid for it. Well, paid the fee once anyway. After, whenever I needed to be drawn out of myself, I went to the movies."
She was holding his hand now, well able to visualize the boy he'd been, sitting in the dark, transported away by the images flickering on screen.
At the age of eight he'd discovered another world outside the misery and violence of the one he lived in.
And at eight, she thought, Eve Dallas had been born to a young girl too broken to remember anything that had come before.
Wasn't it almost the same thing?
Eve recognized the actor. Roarke didn't really go to the movies these daysunless you counted his private theatersbut he had copies on disc of thousands of them. She'd watched more screen in the past year with him than she had in the previous thirty.
Magda Lane wore red. Screaming siren red that painted a stunning and voluptuous body like a work of art. At sixty-three she was just dipping into middle age. From what Eve could see, she was approaching it with a snarl. This was nobody's matron.
Her hair was the color of ripening wheat and tumbled to her bare shoulders in snaking spirals. Her lips, full and lush as her body, were painted the same bold red as her gown. Skin, pale as milk, was unlined and highlighted by a beauty mark just at the outer point of one slashing eyebrow.
Beneath those contrastingly dark brows were eyes of fierce and brilliant green. They landed on Eve coolly, a female to female measuring, then shifted to Roarke and warmed like suns.
She was surrounded by people, and simply shot them a careless smile, then stepped out of the circle, hands outstretched.
"My God, but you're gorgeous."
Roarke took her hands, kissed both. "I was about to say the same. You're stunning, Magda. As ever."
"Yes, but that's my job. You were just born that way. Lucky bastard. And this must be your wife."
"Yes. Eve, Magda Lane."
"Lieutenant Eve Dallas." Magda's voice was like fog, low and full of secrets. "I've been looking forward to meeting you. I was devastated I couldn't make the wedding last year."
"It seems to have stuck anyway."
Magda's brows rose, then the eyes beneath them began to glitter with appreciation. "Yes, it has. Go away, Roarke. I want to acquaint myself with your lovely and fascinating wife. And you're too much of a distraction."
Magda waved him away with one slim hand. Light shot off the diamond on her ring finger like the tail of a comet before she tucked her arm companionably through Eve's.
"Now, let's find someplace where a dozen people won't insist on speaking to us. Nothing more tedious than idle conversation, is there? Of course, you're thinking that's just what you're about to be trapped into with me, but I'll assure you I don't intend to make our conversation idle. Shall I start off by telling you one of my own regrets is that your ridiculously attractive husband is young enough to be my son?"
Eve found herself sitting at a table in the back corner of the ballroom. "I don't see why that would have stopped either of you."
Laughing delightedly Magda snagged fresh flutes of champagne, then shooed the server away. "My own fault. I made a rule never to take a lover more than twenty years older or younger. Stuck with it, too. More's the pity. But . . ." She paused to sip, studying Eve. "It isn't Roarke I want to talk about, but you. You're exactly what I thought he'd fall for when his time came around."
Eve choked on her wine, blinked. "You're the first person who's ever said that." She struggled with herself a moment, then gave up. "Why do you say it?"
"You're quite attractive, but he wouldn't have been blinded by your looks. You find that amusing," Magda noted, nodding in approval. "Good. A nice sense of humor's essential when dealing with any man, but particularly one of Roarke's nature."
They were solid looks though, Magda mused. Neither glamorous nor staggering, but solid with good bones, clear eyes, and an interesting dent in the center of a strong chin.
"Your looks might have attracted him, but they didn't snare him. I wondered about that as Roarke has an interest, and an affection, for beauty. So I, having some interest and affection of my own in the man, followed the media on you."
Eve angled her head, a kind of challenge. "Do I pass?"
Amused, Magda ran one scarlet-tipped finger around the rim of her flute, then lifted it to equally bold lips, and sipped. "You're a smart, determined woman who doesn't merely stand on her own feet but uses them to boot whatever asses need booting. You're a physical woman with brains, and a look in your eyes when you glance around an event like this that says: ÔWhat a bunch of nonsense. Haven't we all got something better to do?'"
Intrigued, Eve studied Magda in turn. More here, she realized, than some fluff piece who liked to play make-believe. "Are you a shrink or an actor?"
"Either profession requires solid elements of both." She paused again, sipped again. "My guess is you didn'tdon'tgive a hang about his money. That would have intrigued him. I can't see you falling at his feet either. If you had, he'd likely have scooped you up and played with you awhile. But he wouldn't have kept you."
"I'm not one of his damn toys."
"No, you're not." This time Magda lifted her glass in a toast. "He's madly in love with you, and it's lovely to see. Now, tell me about being a policewoman. I've never played one. I have played women who go outside the law to protect what's theirs, but never one who works within it to protect others. Is it exciting?"
"It's a job. It has its ups and downs like any."
"I doubt like any. You solve murders. We . . . civilians, I suppose you'd say, can't help but find the process, including the murder, fascinating."
"That's because you're not the one who's dead."
"Exactly." Magda threw back her magnificent head and roared with laughter. "Oh, I like you! I'm so glad. You don't want to talk about your work, I understand. People from outside think mine is exciting, glamorous. When what it is . . . is a job, with its ups and downs like any."
"I've seen a lot of your work. I think Roarke has everything you've done on disc. I like the one where you're a scheming conwoman who falls for her mark. It's fun."
"Bait and Switch. Yes, it was. Chase Conner was my leading man in that, and I fell for him, too. It was also fun, while it lasted. I'm auctioning off the costume I wore in the cocktail party scene."
She glanced around the ballroom, scanning her things, things that had once been vital to her, with amusement. "It should bring a good price, and help get The Magda Lane Foundation for the Performing Arts off the ground. So many bits and pieces of a career, of a life, going on the block before much longer."
She turned, studying a display arranged like a lady's boudoir, with a shimmering nightgown, an open jewelry case where chains and stones spilled gloriously onto a gleaming dressing table. "That's a lovely bit of female business, isn't it?"
"Yeah, if you're into that."
Magda swiveled back, smiling. "At one time I was desperately into that. But, a smart woman doesn't survive a fickle career like acting without regularly reinventing herself."
"What are you now?"
"Yes, yes," Magda murmured. "I like you very much. People ask me why I'm doing this, why I'm giving so much of it up. Do you know what I say?"
"That I intend to live and to work for a great deal longer. Time enough to collect more." She gave that lusty laugh again, turned back to Eve. "That's true enough, but there's more. The Foundation's a dream of mine, a cherished one. Acting's been good to me. I want to pass it on, while I'm still around and young enough to enjoy it all. Grants, scholarships, facilities for all that new blood to swim in. It pleases me that a young actor or director might get his or her start from a break given in my name. That's vanity."
"I don't think so. I think it's wisdom."
"Oh. Now I like you even more. Ah, there's Vince, giving me the eye. My son," Magda explained. "He's handling the media and assisting in the security for this extravaganza. Such a demanding young man," she added, signaling across the room. "God knows where he got that particular trait. So that's my cue to get back to work." She rose. "I'm going to be in New York for the next several weeks. I hope we'll see each other again."
"That would be nice."
"Ah, Roarke, perfect timing." Magda turned to beam at him as he walked to the table. "I have to abandon your delightful wife as duty calls. I expect an invitation to dinner, very soon, so I can spend more time with both of you, and indulge in one of those spectacular meals your man arranges. What is his name?"
"Summerset," Eve said, lip curling.
"Yes, of course. Summerset. Soon," she said, and kissed both Roarke's cheeks before gliding off.
"You were right. I did like her."
"I was sure you would." As he spoke, he began to guide her smoothly toward the exit. "I'm sorry to interrupt your evening off, but we have some trouble."
"A problem with security? Somebody try to duck out with a pocketful of baubles?"
"No. It's nothing to do with theft, and everything to do with murder."
Her eyes changed. Woman to cop. "Who's dead?"
"One of the housekeeping staff, from what I'm told." He kept her arm, steered her toward a bank of elevators. "She's in the south tower, forty-sixth floor. I don't know the details," he said shortly before she could interrupt. "My head of hotel security just informed me."
"Have the police been contacted?"
"I've contacted you, haven't I?" Eyes grim, he waited while the elevator shot up to the south tower. "Security knew I was on site, and that you were with me. It was decided to inform meand youfirst."
"Okay, don't get testy. We don't even know if it's a homicide yet. People are always yelling murder at unattended deaths. Mostly they're accidents or natural causes."
The minute she stepped off the elevator, her eyes narrowed to slits. Too many people in the hallway, including one hysterical female in a housekeeper's uniform, lots of guys in suits, and several people who were obviously guests who'd popped out of their rooms to see what the commotion was.
She reached into her foolish little purse, pulled out her badge, and held it up as she strode forward.
"NYPSD, clear this area. You people go back in your rooms, anyone with hotel security stand by. And somebody deal with this woman here. Who's security chief?"
"That would be me." A tall lean man with a coffee-colored complexion and mirror-sheened bald head stepped forward. "John Brigham."
"Brigham, you're with me." Since she didn't have her master code, she gestured to the door.
When he opened it, she stepped through, scanned the parlor area.
Sumptuous, chock-full of fancy furniture, including a full bar setup. And tidy as a church. The privacy screens on the generous windows were engaged, and the lights on full.
"Where is she?" Eve asked Brigham.
"Bedroom, to the left."
"Was the door open or closed as it is now when you arrived on scene?"
"It was closed when I got here. But I can't say it was that way before. Ms. Hilo from Housekeeping found her."
"That's the woman in the hall?"
"All right, let's see what we've got." She moved to the door, opened it.
Music poured out. The lights were on full here as well, and shone harshly on the body lying on the bed like a broken doll that had been tossed there by a spoiled child.
One arm was cocked at an impossible angle, her face was raw and blackened from a vicious beating, and her uniform skirt was hiked up to her waist. The thin silver wire used to strangle her cut deep into her throat like a slender and deadly necklace.
"I think you can rule out natural causes," Roarke murmured.
"Yeah. Brigham, who's been in this suite besides you and the housekeeper since the body was found?"
"Did you approach the body, touch it or anything other than the doors in any way?"
"I know the drill, Lieutenant. I was on the jobChicago PSD, Anti-Crime Division. Twelve years. Hilo alerted me. She was screaming into her communicator. I got here within two minutes. She'd run back to her base on the fortieth floor. I entered the suite, came to the doorway here, determined by visual that the victim was deceased. Aware that Roarke was on site, and accompanied by you, I contacted him immediately, then secured the suite, sent for Hilo, and waited for your arrival."
"I appreciate it, Brigham. Since you were on the job, you know how many times a crime scene's corrupted by helping hands. Did you know the victim?"
"No. Hilo called her Darlene. Little Darlene. That's all I could get out of her."
Eve was scanning the scene, keeping herself back from it, and calculating the steps that had led to murder. "You could do me a big favor and get Hilo somewhere quiet and private where she can't talk to anyone but you until I send for her. I'm going to call this in. I don't want to go into the room until I can seal up."
Brigham reached in his pocket, pulled out a minican of Seal-It. "I had one of my men bring this up. And a recorder," he added, handing her a collar clip. "Didn't figure you'd have a field kit with you."
"Good thinking. Do you mind sticking with Hilo for a while?"
"I'll take care of it. You can tag me when you want to talk to her. Meanwhile, I'll leave a couple of men at the door until your crime scene unit gets here."
"Thanks." Idly she shook the can. "Why'd you go off the job?"
For the first time Brigham smiled. "My current employer made me a hell of an offer."
"I bet you did," Eve said to Roarke when Brigham stepped out. "He's got a cool head, good eyes." She started to spray her shoes, then decided she'd do a hell of a lot better without them. After stepping out of them, she sprayed her feet, her hands, passed off the can, then the clip, to Roarke.
"I'll need you to record the scene." She pulled out her communicator and called it in.
"Her name's Darlene French." Roarke read off the data he'd called up from his PPC. "She's worked here for just over a year. She was twenty-two."
"I'm sorry." She touched his arm, waited until he shifted those hot, angry eyes to hers. "I'm going to take care of her now. Record on, okay?"
"Yes, all right." He slipped the PPC back in his pocket, engaged the clip recorder.
"The victim is identified as Darlene French, female, age twenty-two, employed as housekeeper, The Roarke Palace Hotel. Apparent homicide, this location, Suite 4602. Present and acting as primary, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Also present and acting as temporary aide in recording this log, Roarke. Dispatch has been notified."
Now Eve approached the body. "The scene shows little sign of struggle, but the body shows bruising and lacerations consistent with a violent beating, particularly around the face. Blood spatter pattern indicates that beating was administered while the victim was on the bed."
She glanced around the room again, noted the beeper on the floor just outside the bath.
"The right arm is broken," she continued. "Other bruising on the victim's thighs and vaginal area indicates premortem rape."
Gently, Eve lifted one of the limp hands. Wishing for microgoggles, she examined it carefully. "Got a little skin here," she murmured. "Managed to get a swipe in, didn't you, Darlene? Good for you. We have skin, possibly hair and fiber under victim's fingernails."
Meticulous, she moved up the body. The uniform was still buttoned over the breasts. "He didn't bother with much foreplay. Didn't rip at her clothes or bother to take them off her. Just beat her, broke her, raped her. A thin wire, silver in appearance, has been used, garrote-style, to strangle the victim. The ends of the wire were crossed in front, then twisted into small loops, indicate the killer strangled her face-to-face, while he was ranged over her, and she was down. Have you got this from all angles?" she asked Roarke.
With a nod, she lifted the victim's head, tilting her own so that she could see the back of the wire. "Get this," she ordered. "It might shift a little when we turn her. The wire's unbroken in the back, and the bleeding's minimal. He didn't use it until he'd finished the beating, until he'd finished the rape. Straddling her," she said, narrowing her eyes to bring it into focus. "One knee on either side. She's not putting up much of a fight, if any, by this point. He just slips the wire over her head, crosses the ends in front, then pulls, opposite directions. It wouldn't have taken long."
But she'd have bucked, her body instinctively struggling to throw off the weight, her throat burning from the wire and the trapped screams of pain and terror. Her heart would have pounded, and that storm-at-sea sound would have exploded in her ears at the lack of oxygen.
Heels drumming, hands clawing for air. Until the blood begins to burst in the head, behind the eyes, and that frantic heart surrenders.
Eve stepped back. There was little more she could do without a field kit. "I need to know who this room is registered to. What the housekeeping routine is. I'll need to talk to Hilo," she added as she walked to the closet, glanced in. "And it would help for me to be able to interview anyone on staff who knew her well." She checked the dresser.
"No clothes. Not even a lint ball. A couple of used towels she might have dropped or simply set down on her way out of the bathroom. Was anyone registered to this room?"
"I'll find out. You'll want her next of kin."
"Yeah." Eve sighed. "Husband, if she had one. Boyfriends, lovers, exes. Nine times out of ten that's what you find in a sexual homicide. But I think this is number ten. Nothing personal about this, nothing intimate or passionate. He wasn't mad, wasn't particularly involved."
"There's nothing intimate about rape."
"There can be," Eve corrected. And she knew that, better than most. "When there's knowledge between the assailant and the victim, any sort of historyeven just a fantasy on the part of the assailant, it lends intimacy. This was cold. Just ram it in and get off. I bet he spent more time beating her than he did with the rape. Some men enjoy the first more. It's their foreplay."
Roarke switched off the recorder. "Eve. Turn the case over to someone else."
"What?" She blinked herself back to the moment. "Why would I do that?"
"Don't put yourself through this." He touched her cheek. "It hurts you."
He was being careful, she noted, not to mention her father. The beatings, the rapes, the terror she'd lived with until she was eight.
"They all hurt if you let them," she said simply, and turned back to look at Darlene French. "I won't turn her over to someone else, Roarke. I can't. She's already mine."
Reprinted from Betrayal in Death by Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.